Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Pakistan 1953

A. J. Arberry was a renowned Orientalist from Cambridge who is best known for his English translation of the Quran. In 1953, he also translated the second part of Iqbal's Persian work Secrets and Mysteries as 'Mysteries of Selflessness'.

Arberry started his preface by drawing attention of his readers, especially the Western academics, to the significance of Pakistan as a flagbearer of democracy and freedom in the modern world. By comparison he  found the rest of the Muslim world to be in the grip of intolerant ideologies. 

Then should it not surprise us that in his final analysis in the same preface, Arberry did not suggest even remotely that Pakistan should be upheld as a role model and its ideology popularized in other Muslim countries. Quite the contrary, Arberry advocated that the worldview of Iqbal as well as the idea of Pakistan was based on a faulty premise and should be debunked. Was it prejudice or mere delusion? How does one resolve such contradiction in an esteemed scholar?

On these questions there can be a long debate but what I want to offer here today are two excerpts from Arberry's preface. The first is his portrayal of the young Pakistan (only 6-year-old at that time) and the second is his general perception of the Muslim world.
"...even the most indifferent reader of the newspapers must by now have begun to grasp something of the impact of Pakistan’s creation upon the main tendencies of world-politics. Pakistan’s spokesmen in the debates of the United Nations have attracted so much attention and respect, whether in their Kashmir arguments or in their championship of Moroccan or Tunisian aspirations, that it would be a singularly dull-witted observer of the international scene who would still fail to realize that this new country is destined to play a very leading part in the coming drama of world-history."
The Muslim World
" is impossible to live intelligently for a single day in any part of that large stretch of the earth’s surface extending from Morocco to Indonesia, without becoming uncomfortably aware that Islam and Europe stand poised against each other, and that the choice between peace and war may not be far off. Whether we like it or not, be we Europeans or Africans or Asians, we live in dangerous times, and may well be heading for the greatest collision since Richard fought Saladin. Are we justified in pretending that the facts are otherwise?"
We can clearly see the contrast between Pakistan and the rest of the Muslim World as it appeared to Arberry in 1953. It is besides the point whether these perceptions were true or not. The question is: if this is how Arberry saw the difference between Pakistan and the rest of the Muslim World, then why did he suggest in the rest of the preface that the idea of Pakistan needed to be debunked as effectively as possible?


Connie L. Nash said...

I read this with great interest and find you are more than fair to our Western scholars who speak with "such authority" when really they have no idea, regardless of their scholarship of whom and to whom they are addressing.

Oh for more understanding of all of our histories and the living today in light of the same.

Thank you for filling me in on many details and points of view otherwise I would miss completely.

Thinking said...

hmm...just to echo in what Dear Connie has said...

I would like to add that why not any prerequisite or measures were taken by Pakistan authority to grant rights to the people who wrote on Pakistan???

Why not we made code of writing...on our history and our present???

Today's book would be tommoro's history and thats what had happen to J. S Arberry book...

hmmm...but Shafique really opened my eyes....thank you so much.

Khurram Ali Shafique said...

Something which nobody appreciates is the extent to which the founding fathers of Pakistan granted freedom of expression even within Pakistan: the very creation of Pakistan was being questioned openly in our own newspapers as long as Jinnah and Liaquat Ali Khan were alive - this in an age when Great Britain was executing "Lord Haw-Haw" and US was sending the Rosenberg couple to the electric chair.

Arberry's preface came a little later. The best way to guard ourselves would have been a sympathetic listening of Arberry's case while retaining our self-respect - and trying to explain our perspective.

Unfortunately what happened was that our own intellectuals, including those who represented the mainstream Pakistani ideology, bent over backward to hail Arberry as "Iqbal's disciple" and the great White Messiah who has finally paid attention to this country. Consequently, almost all academic writings on Iqbal were either directly based on the verdicts of Arberry or indirectly influenced by him - and this continues to this date.

THIS is what I am trying to change through my writings, but obviously it's going to take a very long time.

Connie L. Nash said...

Obviously, since you are wearing down and away much of the influence of this arrogant westerner while still quite young, certainly your progress in this goal is already enormous! ?